New school for Down High

New school for Down High

By David Telford

DOWN High School's plans for a new multi-million pound campus in Downpatrick have been given the green light.

Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd confirmed yesterday he is making money available to allow the school to begin work on a business case paving the way for the new development.

The Department of Education is also to finance the purchase of land at the rear of Down Council's former Strangford Road headquarters where the new school will be built.

The Downpatrick grammar school is one of 22 schools in Northern Ireland which are to share a £220m cash windfall to move their respective new-build schemes to the development stage.

It's understood the Department of Education wants Down High's project to be "shovel ready" so when money becomes available — possibly in 18 months' time — work in Downpatrick could start immediately.

Mr. O'Dowd told the Assembly that Down High's new build proposal is one of a number which has been identified as a "priority project." He explained his funding package will address the issues of "overcrowding, substandard accommodation and over-reliance on temporary classrooms." There are 29 temporary classrooms at Down High's current Mount Crescent base.

The Education Minister also confirmed that authorisation to proceed with construction would be based on the level of capital funding availability at that time and all necessary approvals being obtained.

Mr. O'Dowd added: "This announcement is good news for the pupils and staff at Down High School as well as the wider community. The £220m investment will also be welcomed as a much-needed boost to the construction sector in the coming years."

School headmaster, Mr. Paul Logan (above), described Mr. O'Dowd's announcement as a "significant day for Down High School" and one that will be warmly welcomed by many people, including pupils and parents.

He continued: "The Board of Governors, senior leaders at the school and a number of senior staff at the South Eastern Education and Library Board have been working very hard for many years, and particularly over the past six months, to bring about this decision.

"We have also been supported enormously by politicians from all parties, including MPs, MLAs and the local councillors."

Mr. Logan said although Down High made every effort to develop its facilities in recent years — and succeeded in doing so in a number of ways — "there is no doubt that a new school is greatly needed."

He said while Down High's recent inspection report, which described the school as "very good" and confirmed staff are succeeding in delivering an excellent education, it also made reference to the school's "limited facilities."

The headmaster declared: "This announcement brings us much closer to the day when Down High pupils will move into the modern state-of-the-art facilities which they deserve."

Mr. Logan said he is now looking forward to working with the South Eastern Education and Library Board to finalise plans for the new school at the Strangford Road.

The headmaster said while it was regrettable that Down High's open night on Monday evening had to be postponed due to the severe weather, the timing of the Education Minister's announcement means he will be able to brief prospective parents on the new-build proposal at the rescheduled event next Monday, January 28.